Good Food Cir­cle’s last­ing legacy

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - KINSALE - Joe McNamee FOOD & TOURISM

Wear­ing a slightly dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sional hat, I of­ten find my­self ad­dress­ing con­fer­ences and pro­fes­sional gath­er­ings, quite of­ten on the sub­ject of food tourism — in other words, tourists drawn to a des­ti­na­tion by its prom­ise of the food and food cul­ture on of­fer to them.

Sev­eral years ago, when I first be­gan speak­ing about the sub­ject, it was to pro­vide an in­tro­duc­tion to the con­cept of food tourism and the gen­tle sug­ges­tion that it might well be an area worth look­ing at.

These days, I have re­fined my mes­sage: If you’re in the hos­pi­tal­ity end of the tourism busi­ness, you HAVE to fo­cus on food tourism, an area the World Travel Or­gan­i­sa­tion con­tin­ues to recog­nise as the fastest grow­ing sec­tor in the tourism over­all, and any lo­cal ini­tia­tives HAVE to in­clude a con­certed and co-op­er­a­tive pro­mo­tion of the lo­cal food of­fer­ing.

Mind you, should I ever be asked to ad­dress the sea­soned prac­ti­tion­ers of the Kin­sale hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor, I might do well to lis­ten as much as speak, for food tourism i s some­thing they’ve been up to in Kin­sale for quite some time, long be­fore the term was ever used.

It be­gan with the Kin­sale Good Food Cir­cle, a group of lo­cal restau­ra­teurs who came to­gether to pro­mote the town’s food of­fer­ing as a whole rather than just their in­di­vid­ual en­ter­prises, in­clud­ing the stag­ing of an an­nual Gourmet Fes­ti­val. Last year, the Good Food Cir­cle cel­e­brated its 40th an­niver­sary.

Back in 1976, on foot of the suc­cess of a se­ries of Wild Geese Week­ends, gourmet events that played on Kin­sale’s prom­i­nent place in Ir­ish his­tory and were very suc­cess­ful, the seeds were sown for the for­mal es­tab­lish­ment of the Kin­sale Good Food Cir­cle, when 12 ho­tels (Ac­ton’s Ho­tel, Blue Haven Ho­tel, Monastery Ho­tel) and restau­rants (Gino’s, Bac­chus, The Spin­naker, Man Fri­day, Bistro, The Vin­tage, Rath­more House, Skip­per’s, and The White Lady) came to­gether and launched the Gourmet Fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber that year.

Decades be­fore this be­came the norm, they pooled mar­ket­ing re­sources, de­vot­ing half of each es­tab­lish­ment’s ad­ver­tis­ing bud­get to pro­mot­ing Kin­sale as a gourmet food des­ti­na­tion.

They looked at rais­ing stan­dards across the board, dis­patch­ing mys­tery din­ers to each venue and cri­tiquing each of­fer­ing at group meet­ings. And it be­gan to have the de­sired im­pact: Pretty soon the lit­tle sea­side town was de­vel­op­ing a na­tional rep­u­ta­tion for restau­rant stan­dards at a time when a good eat­ing es­tab­lish­ment was hard enough to find at the best of times, even in Dublin — yet in Kin­sale you had a town of fewer than 3,000 souls of­fer­ing your pick of any of a dozen good din­ing op­tions.

Chefs par ex­cel­lence

Two chefs in par­tic­u­lar would both go on to na­tional renown, an early in­di­ca­tion of ex­cep­tional stan­dards well above the na­tional norm pre­vail­ing at the time. Gerry Galvin, an acolyte of Myr­tle Allen and one of the great fore­bears of the mod­ern Ir­ish food move­ment, ran The Vin­tage with his wife, Marie, and Miche­lin­starred chef Derry Clarke, now of L’Écrivain, be­gan his ca­reer in Pe­ter Barry’s Man Fri­day restau­rant.

With the pas­sage of time, the KGFC has evolved. The leg­endary Pe­ter Barry, though re­main­ing the driv­ing force be­hind the KGFC, passed on his place at the helm of the iconic Man Fri­day in 1978 to Philip and Joss Hor­gan, where son Daniel is now over­see­ing a re­turn to the glory days.

Jim’s son, Liam ( KGFC chair), is to the fore in the renowned Jim Ed­wards’ — a won­der­ful gas­tropub, long be­fore the term was ever coined. The White Lady, also an iconic Kin­sale es­tab- lish­ment, con­tin­ues to of­fer good food, ac­com­mo­da­tion, and en­ter­tain­ment while Restau­rant d’An­tibes and The Bistro at the White House fea­tures fine lo­cal meats and seafood on its menus in a friendly en­vi­ron­ment. These days, Ac­ton’s food of­fer­ing is served up in its Sid­ney’s Bar & Brasserie and the Fisher Street din­ing room, with views over the har­bour to match the fine fare from the kitchen.

The Tri­dent Ho­tel has un­der­gone a smart makeover and the kitchen takes par­tic­u­lar pride in their care­ful sourc­ing of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents. Pearse and Mary O’Sul­li­van run the mul­ti­ple award- win­ning Tod­die’s Restau­rant at the Bul­man Bar, where Pearse’s fine cook­ing con­tin­ues to at­tract plau­dits from public and crit­ics alike. Martin and Marie Shana­han own and op­er­ate Fishy Fishy, prob­a­bly Ire­land’s most fa­mous seafood restau­rant, and TV celebrity chef Martin never misses an op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote his adopted home­town and seafood in gen­eral.

New­est mem­bers, Julie and John Finn, at Finn’s Ta­ble, have added yet an­other su­perb restau­rant to the town’s al­ready bulging port­fo­lio and look­ing at the cal­i­bre of a whole new wave of re­cent open­ings in the town, it ap­pears there is plenty of fresh new blood to join them.

At the pop­u­lar Kin­sale restau­rant Lemon Leaf Café are Jac­qui Ryan and Tracy Keoghan, pro­pri­etor. Pic­tures: Dan Line­han

The din­ing room at Finns’ Ta­ble, run by John and Julie Finn, on Main Street, Kin­sale.

Tri­dent Ho­tel staff mem­bers Ela Jack, Ania Migon, Tr­ish Grey, and Lisa Desmond at an open day in the newly restyled ho­tel in March. Pic­ture: John Allen

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